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The Moral Implications of Bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki

By Syed R Mahmood

Even 65 years after the American atomic bombing of Japan, humanity is still too perturbed to comprehend the justification of this horrific action. Does the inhuman method of killing unarmed civilians: men, women, and children reflect as an act of bravery and honor or an acceptable norm of war games?

Around 140,000 people were killed in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and three days later another 80,000 civilians died in Nagasaki because of that atomic bomb attack by the United States. There were an estimated number of 260,000, who survived, but suffered due to the effects of radiation. A good number of these individuals became victims of cancer.

Tsutomu Yamaguchi, an officially recognized Japanese person to have survived both bomb attacks, described his eyewitness version of his own experience at the scene of total devastation;  “There were burned people, children as well as adults, some of them dead, some of them on the verge of death.”

President Harry Truman always justified his use of the atomic bombs on Japan by saying, “We have used it in order to shorten the agony of war, in order to save the lives of thousands and thousands of young Americans”.

After the big fiasco of the Iraq war and misrepresentation by President George W. Bush and his administration regarding the purpose to attack Iraq, there has also been renewed interest in some circles of Americans to rethink and reevaluate the moral consequences of the atomic bomb attacks by the United States on Japan.

Around the Globe in the month of August, every nation was commemorating this historic tragedy which was inflicted by the leader of a very responsible nation. Newspapers and TV displayed horrible images of devastation. Let us revisit this question again. Did President Truman have other options?

On July 11, 1945, Japan communicated with the Allies through Russia that Japan would like to finish the war. Japan was willing to relinquish the occupied territories which they had taken during the war.

The air force chief, General Hop Arnold, asked the commander of the B–29 bombers, General Curtis LeMay, in the month of June 1945, when the war is going to end. General LeMay replied, "in September or October". He estimated that by then they would have run out of industrial targets in Japan to bomb.

At the same time when Japan was being bombarded, a naval blockade was strangling Japan’s ability to import oil and other vital materials plus its ability to produce war components. (Barton Bernstein, Ed, The Atomic Bomb, pg.54).

Admiral William Leahy, the Chief of Staff to President Roosevelt and then to President Truman, wrote, “By the beginning of September, 1944, Japan was almost completely defeated through a practically complete sea and air blockade.” (William Leahy, I was There, pg.259).

After the surrender of Germany in May of 1945 the Allied forces were free to focus their troops to defeat Japan. There was yet another view on this subject: The purpose of dropping atomic bombs on Japan was to warn the Soviet Union. The unconditional surrender of Japan was a popular option in the United States and punishment of the Emperor of Japan was also a hot subject.

After the war, President Truman requested a panel to study the Pacific war. Based on an investigation of all the facts and including the testimonies of the surviving Japanese leaders involved, the final conclusion was that Japan would have surrendered even without using the atomic bombs.

The creation of a nuclear weapon was the invention of evil. It should be a crime for any nation to build, acquire and to use it, regardless of their status in the World community. The United States should take the lead in eliminating the weapons of human annihilation.

Syed R. Mahmood is the founder president of the American Institute of International Studies. He was Republican candidate for 13th Congressional District in 2002.